Why Social Network Marketing Misses Out: Playing Solitaire at a Party

If you work at an interactive agency or at a brand that’s interested in marketing at social networks, this post is for you.

Agencies and Brands unsure what to do
I can see the deal now, and I’m sure many of you have been in these meetings (client or agency side). The agency knows the brand manager is familiar, comfortable, with traditional interactive marketing campaigns in the past. So, the agency comes to the table repurposing a successful microsite now to meet a “Facebook strategy”. The brand manager nods, signs off, and the agency gets to work. Weeks to months later, the campaign launches on Facebook, with many of the computer-to-human features that you’d see on a microsite but it doesn’t allow self-expression or the ability to share. As such, only a few folks show up, and it’s written off as a ‘learning experiment’ (corporate translation: fail)

[When it comes to social network marketing, many brands are deploying “computer-to-human” efforts, and therefore missing out on the true community features of self-expression and sharing that “member-to-member” activities provide]

Fail: many brands repurposing microsite strategies
In my recent report “The best and worst of social network marketing” most brands are doing it wrong. In fact, I’m hearing of more and more cases where interactive agencies are repurposing interactive marketing (human to computer) and go to brands (who don’t know what to do) and present a 6-7 digit proposal for a Facebook strategy. Unfortunately, many brands are spending a tremendous amount of resources and missing the most important opportunities. (Deloitte research also backs this up -WSJ)

Solitaire, a terrible party game
Have you noticed that the card game solitaire doesn’t make for a good party game? It’s the same thing when it comes to social networks. Social networks are about self expression, communication, and networking and sharing with others –it’s more akin to social card games like poker, gin, or even mah jong. The core elements of these games encourage sharing, trading, communicating with other players of the party.

Many brands are deploying solitaire games at a party, where everyone is already playing poker. The same concept applies to marketing efforts on social networks. In our research, many were developing efforts that was two-way between the brand and a single member (interactive marketing). Instead, brands missed the core behavior of member to member interaction between the community, therein lies the true opportunity.

Socialization, the missing link
What does this opportunity look like? Getting the members to self-express on your behalf, communicate to each other, and spread the brand values to their own network at a rapid pace. Social networking tools allow for rapid spread of information to ones network –providing they choose to participate in this behavior.

It’s interesting to note that the agency that delivered the only passing grade was Federated Media, who doesn’t come from the traditional interactive agency realm, but instead first with a blog advertising networks, and is slowly expanding into social marketing. Unfortunately, I’ve heard concerns from some that they may not be able to scale to meet enterprise needs that other large existing firms offer, so we’ll have to see if they can grow –while maintaining flexibility.

So, as you start to shop around for ideas to meet your objectives for your social marketing activities, remember that repurprosing the traditional microsites is missing out on the social behaviors that are native to social networks.

Understand the different forms of web marketing
Also, if you need a crash cours on the many different types of marketing available to you learn about the many forms of Web Marketing for 2008, the list grows every year.

27 Replies to “Why Social Network Marketing Misses Out: Playing Solitaire at a Party”

  1. Don’t put all the blame on the agencies. Many clients that I work with express a lot of interest in marketing within social networking sites, but recoil once I explain what you have written about in your blog post.

    When the clients realize that they will have to turn over some control over the conversation/messaging to the users, they prefer to opt for the typical game of Solitaire.

  2. Hits the nail right on the head, thanks for sharing this insight; as many many people jump on the social media bandwagon and every dog and his mom is now an expert strategist there will be many tales of failed implementations

    I think it has a lot to do with trying to reinvent the wheel like you said; there are already a myriad social communities out there where people congregate and share stuff and talk to each other; it is kind of pointless to try and build more and more and spend a lot of efforts trying to herd cats over to your little corner of the sandbox

    the more sensible thing would be to get a social media person to establish a presence for your brand or company on e.g Facebook, Twitter, MyBlogLog, Ning, StumbleUpon, del.icio.us, YouTube etc and start sharing and interacting there in an authentic way on the company or brand’s behalf

    the followers or community built up there in that way will already have an interest to then click through to the corporate blog or website to go see about the interesting tidbit you’ve shared on whatever modality you chose in the previous step

    anyways, just my two cents 😉

  3. Scott

    Yup, it’s chicken and egg. Brands are on the demand side, but don’t know what they are demanding.

    Most brands aren’t ready to participate in the party (headcount, resources, mindset) –that’s another blog post, stay tuned.

    Control: yes, that’s even another blog post.

  4. It could all be summed up like this: “It’s the people, stupid!” Jeremiah, you are right on. A commuity must be built with a personal approach. Then it will last. I have done this for the ground up three times. All the “Solitaire” or promotions or other ways of shouting at the community won’t make up for genuine caring and nurturing of relationships with the members. This can be very draining at times but I wouldn’t know a better way to do it.

  5. Great post, Jeremiah. I like how you’ve boiled down the idea of a true social media concept to something people can digest “computer-to-human” vs. “human-to-human”.

    There are some reasons brands/agencies end up in a familiar place and not truly social place when when trying to execute a social media idea. I could argue it’s just one reason actually. People tend to build on past experience. Past experience means using an old formula, which resulted in a client happy (who is happy because expectations, old expectations, were met) which resulted in being paid. Challenging the old proven formula invites missing out on the happy client and paycheck. Of course, we know this isn’t the true way forward though.

    The learning curve was long and painful in the transition from traditional (TV/print/outdoor/direct) advertising to what we think of as a modern media mix (all of the above plus banners/email/website).

    I’ve had the experience with multiple clients where a true social media creative concept is too challenging to move forward with. A “human-to-human” concept requires them letting go of illusional controls brand owners think they have over their brand’s image in the minds of their consumers. People protect their turf inside their organizations unfortunately to the detriment of their brand.

    But all is not lost. Time, education and persistence will solve this problem and their are more rewards for those who arrive first.

  6. Great points Jeremiah, and agree wholeheartedly with Mario’s comments above. You need to have more than one person at a firm or agency participating in social media, and that person or persons (in a perfect world) need to LOVE engaging with other people, making connections, beginning conversations, and indirectly, getting a company’s brand recognized and trusted in the social media space.

    Your solitaire/poker analogy is perfect too. I’d also use another analogy that may resonate with some. golf. Anyone can play golf by themselves and get a great result, right? But isn’t the journey more rewarding, and ultimately more productive, when your learning from, interacting with, having fun with, say 3 other fellow golfers?….

  7. John and others

    Glad that it’s a helpful analogy. Some agencies will be put to task if they’ve made my ‘best and worst of social network marketing report’.

    I’m not here to chastise, but to show how things can be improved.

  8. Great post! And I enjoyed your article The best and worst of social network marketing. Actually, I liked it so much I passed it on to my boss. And he probably did not read even as much as one sentence.

    Currently, I work at an marketing an communications agency that is heavy on the interactive side and SEo/SEM. The CEO of my company is having me create an “Online Social Newtworking Campaign” package that he can sell to potential and current clients (mostly franchisee owners and insurance/ financial service agents). Since he himself neither properly utilizes nor understands social media, the project he has me working on is rather ridiculous.

    And so I will do as he asks, but all the while knowing that I am being under-utilized and that his method will probably not succeed.

    I have argued my case several times in the past. BUT, no one here “gets it” and I prefer not to waste my time and energy on them.

  9. The Beer Wench

    It’s probably more important you do it right, or your clients are going to come back in a few months and wonder why it’s not being adopted, putting mud on your face.

    If I were you, I’d create a requirements doc that lists out success, and get your boss to sign off on it before you move forward.

  10. Beer Wench:

    I have so totally been in your shoes. Both clients and to a certain extent, agencies, want a “product” they can package and wrap their heads around. Building organic conversation and community around a brand is a tough sell. Generally, I think it breaks down to a difference between word geeks and numbers geeks.

    Pull reliable, 3rd party data supporting your position (like some of the good stuff here–Go, Jeremiah!) Also, try to find some way to make even a more organic method a little more concrete and easier for them to wrap their heads around. Flow charts can help.

    They’re going to pull towards the automated, “efficient” and measurable–and that’s okay. You need to pull towards the human. That kind of tension can actually make for some really good work.

    Or just start polishing your portfolio and looking for a job with a group that does get it, if your current place is just determined to keep those blinders in place. 😉

  11. @TheBeerWench

    Sounds like a simple package to me. Tell your clients to use twitter, linkedIn, facebook et al. Be human. Don’t oversell. Share. Converse. Explore.

    Just show them how to use the available apps. And let them go.

    That’ll be $2000 please.

  12. Well, part of my nonchalant attitude about the whole project is the fact that I know I am leaving in a few weeks and moving to California. I will try my best to pass on my knowledge and use Jeremiah as a source for defending my stance. If they still refuse to “get it”, then their loss right?

  13. Ding Ding.. Great insight Jeremiah. Collaboration is a form of self expression and the highest form of engagement. Microsites are lead gen mentality. Social advertisement is commerce and collaboration oriented.

    Great work. You know I’m biased and agree 200% with you on this 🙂


  14. I so agree.
    Many people miss out that social networks are user driven. All they have is user generated content.
    Any site owner should create a site predicated on the user – letting users achieve their goals on your site.
    If users have something to share on your site, the better.

  15. Great post. Brands are too used to speaking what they want to say, and having the consumer listen. Social Media has changed that and many brands aren’t quit ready to take that step and participate in a conversation with their audience.

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  17. Thanks for posting, I really enjoyed your most recent post. I think you should post more often, you obviously have natural ability for blogging!

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